Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Hand Print of the Cross...

     A few weeks ago the church I attend regularly celebrated 100 years. As part of the celebration everyone was encouraged to dip their hands in some paint and place their hand print on a wooden cross. That same cross now stands in the front of the sanctuary. I think it is the most unusual and the most beautiful cross I have ever seen in a church building. When I look at it I can't help but think of how rich in symbolism it is.

     Some may see it and think that it is childish. It is reminiscent of the pictures that preschoolers often bring home on Mother's or Father's Day. You know the ones...little hand prints made with finger paint and a cute poem pasted next to them. That childishness is part of what I love about it. It's artwork that we all made for our Heavenly Father. It reminds me to have child like faith. There is no need to be proper or put together in order to approach my Heavenly Father. It encourages me to hold on tightly to the cross...to always be reaching with my hands toward Christ. I can show you exactly where my hand print is on that cross, just as surely as I can tell you about the first time my hands reached for Him in prayer.

     I've been thinking about this cross a lot lately but in a sort of turned around way. I believe that the cross has its very own hand print. It has it's very own identifying mark. That's what a hand print is. No two hand prints are alike. Each one has it's own identity. This is why finger prints are often used to identify criminals...they are specific to the person who owns them. There are no two people with the same finger print or hand print. Forensic labs have tools and techniques that they use to see and identify a hand print that would otherwise not be able to be seen. Perhaps it is the same when it comes to the hand print of the cross. Those whose lives have been forever changed by what Christ did on the cross, are marked by its hand print.  This hand print of the cross should be what identifies us as different from everyone else. The daily interactions we have with others should make them wonder why we are the way we are...why we are so different.

      Second Corinthians 4:6-11 gives us a clear picture of what the hand print of the cross looks like.  "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness', is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power  may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

     As I read these words I have to ask myself, does my life look like this? Do I die enough to my fleshly desires that the life of Jesus can be manifested in me? Do my words, my actions, my lifestyle have the hand print of the cross on them or do they appear to be the same as everyone else's?  Does the way that I live my life, and the way that I interact with others cause others to ask me to "give an account for the hope" that is in me? (1 Peter 3:15)

     The hand print of the cross is distinctive. There is nothing else like it. If we know Christ as our Savior and Lord then the hand prints of the cross should be all over our lives...so much so that the world around us takes notice and wants to know what makes us so different. There is only one way for this to happen. Our hand prints need to be all over that cross...holding fast to Christ, reaching for Him, not letting go of His life altering power.

     When you look closely at the hand printed cross in the church sanctuary, you'll see that the hand prints over lap each other. There are places where you can't tell where one hand print ends and another begins. This is a beautiful picture of how our hand prints must be with the hand print of the cross...so intertwined that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends. It must be that the hand print of the cross is so completely covering all aspects of our lives that we can't be identified by our own hand prints and we are solely identified by the hand print of the cross... which truly is the identifying mark of Christ on our lives.


   

   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Presence...

     Presence...this word has different meanings depending on the context it's used in. If I were to say that someone had the presence of mind to take action in a difficult situation, it would mean that their mind was present in that moment. In other words, their mind wasn't wandering off somewhere else. They were mentally engaged where they were at and because of this, they were able to think quickly and take appropriate action. Then there is the word presence used in the context of a request to be somewhere. We see this often in the form of an invitation, it may read "Your presence is requested". In this context a person's physical presence is being asked for. They are being asked to attend something, to spend time at an event. Finally, the word presence can be used in reference to a feeling you get when you are around someone. Perhaps you've heard someone say, "He has a presence about him." or "He brings a certain presence with him when he walks into the room."  As I ponder the many uses of the word presence, the same questions keep coming back to me. Is my presence a present?  Would other people in my life who have spent time in my presence, consider my presence in their lives a gift?

     My mom had a saying that used to really annoy me when I was a kid. Whenever I wanted to watch something on tv or listen to some music that likely wasn't good for me she would say, "Input, output! What goes in is what comes out!"  I probably was more annoyed because I knew that was her final word on things and I wouldn't get my way, than with the saying itself.  Now that I am older I see the truth in what she said, and I think it relates directly to what kind of presence we have. My mom knew that lyrics to songs, bad behavior, and bad language would linger in the recesses of my heart and mind long after the tv show or song was over. She also knew that whether I realized it or not, it could effect my thinking and behavior. Much like she wanted to feed me healthy food that would fuel my body and was good for me, she wanted to do the same for my heart and mind. So what does this have to do with presence?

     The presence we have is dependent upon whose presence we are spending time in.  If the bulk of our time is spent on social media, watching television, spending time with people who gossip, spending time with people who freely judge others, spending time with people who complain, spending time with people who despise God, or spending time with people who are racist...to name a few, we will become like them. What we put in is what will come out...even if we don't mean for it to happen. This will cause us to bring an unwelcome presence with us wherever we go. Our presence will no longer be a gift. People will see us coming and make excuses as to why they can't spend time with us. People will find our presence to be draining and will likely feel exhausted when they are done being in our presence. I know this isn't what I want. I don't want to drain people or have them run the other way when they see me coming! So how do we remedy that? How do we prevent it?

     We need to spend time in God's presence.  Spending time in God's presence gives us the opportunity to take all of our thoughts, feelings, fears, failures, hurts, hang ups, and questions to Him. There's no need to put on a front with Him. We can come into His presence rough around the edges and let Him do the polishing. We can bring all these things that we have input into our lives and ask Him to change the output. If we let Him He will change our negative thoughts into thoughts filled with hope, love, and mercy for ourselves as well as others. If we let Him, He will replace our fears with peace and show us how to rely on Him for courage to face the future. He will open our eyes to see that our failures were really not failures at all, but opportunities for growth. He can heal our hurts and set us free from our hang-ups. In His hands, our questions become catalysts to go deeper in relationship with Him as we search for answers. Spending time in His presence has a way of changing us from the inside out. We no longer see things the same way. I think it's because He loves us so well. When we spend time in His presence we experience His love for us first hand...and it's life changing. When we input His love it opens our eyes so that we can see clearly.We no longer view others the same way. We see them through the lens of God's love and it effects all of our interactions with them. It's then that we truly see it... if we want our own presence to be a gift, then we need to output His love. I believe His love flowing out of us in our interactions with others, is the difference between people feeling drained by our presence or people feeling refreshed by our presence. It's allowing His presence and love within us, to change us... that changes everything!

    Presence...a word with several different meanings. Yet it strikes me that this one meaning seems to matter most. If we want our presence to be a present...then we need to spend time with the Ultimate Gift Giver- God. This is the only way that we can become a gift to others. In becoming a gift to others, we become most like Jesus who has been such an incredible gift to us. Isn't this what we really want anyway...to be a gift that points others toward the Ultimate Gift Giver?
   



 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Journey to Emmaus...

     There are blogs I don't hesitate to write and then there are blogs that I wait on for quite a length of time. This is one of those. I wait for a variety of reasons. This time I waited because I thought it would be one of those things that I would write about in the future, after I came through to the other side of things. Since it keeps being brought to the forefront of my mind, it seems that it is for now. My prayer is that this post will speak to you and encourage you, should you find yourself on your own journey to Emmaus.

     Two months ago I was painting the deck. There is something about being outdoors alone, that instantly quiets my soul and invites me to talk to God. As I was painting I began to talk to Him about our family's circumstances and I asked Him to give us a clear direction for our lives. It has been three years since my husband's lay off and he had just applied for several jobs...all of which would require us to move out of the area should he get hired. As I continued to paint in the silence that followed, I heard Him say, "Go read about the road to Emmaus." I wasn't really sure why I needed to read that but curiosity got the best of me. I took a break to go read.

     The road to Emmaus takes place in Luke 24 after Jesus was crucified and after He appeared to the women at the tomb. Two of the apostles are walking to the village of Emmaus. As they walk together they begin discussing everything that has taken place. During their journey Jesus approaches them and begins to travel with them. In verse sixteen it tells us that "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him". He asks them what they are talking about and they say, "Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?" Or in modern language, "What rock did you crawl out from under?!"  Jesus doesn't miss a beat and replies, "What things?" They tell Him all about Jesus and the crucifixion. In verse twenty two they even share their disappointment with Him and say, " But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened."  Finally, they tell Him about the empty tomb. Jesus responds by taking them on a Scriptural tour of sorts. He explains beginning with Moses all of the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. Eventually they reach the village. He appears to be going farther, and they convince Him to stay with them. He agrees. It isn't until they are sitting at the supper table and He blesses the bread, breaks it, and begins giving it to them that their eyes are opened and they recognize Him. Can you imagine their shock when they realize that they had been with Jesus that whole time and didn't know it?!

     I had read this passage before, but never before was I able to see myself so much in those apostles... until that day when I was painting the deck.  At that moment in time my husband and I were just like the apostles. We were walking on our own road to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened in our lives these past three years, thinking about how God hadn't shown up in the ways we thought He would or expected Him to, feeling the length of our journey, and wondering what direction we needed to go in. Were we even on the right path? Had we missed something? Had we missed God's will for us in our search for it? Just as it was with the apostles, God has been walking this road with us all along and listening to our conversations. Sure we have seen and recognized His faithfulness and provision for us on the journey, but there are ways in which like the apostles our eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. After all, how many times did we silently wonder where He was and strive to search out his will? Just like the apostles had hoped that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and were disappointed that instead He was crucified, we had hoped that God would have provided us with a full time job by now. We had expectations just like them, and our own timeline just like them. Yet here was Jesus the whole time...listening to them, walking with them, and finally educating them. He took the time to school them on the Scriptures pertaining to Himself starting with Moses. It's Him saying, "This is where I have been all along. There has been this master plan from the beginning and you don't have to strive to see what it is." Still, they don't recognize Him until He breaks bread. They had been searching for Him in the mind blowing, extraordinary, out of their control things that had happened to them. He was right there in the ordinary every day act of breaking bread. So it is with us.

     I read about the road to Emmaus that day and went back to painting the deck, but I haven't stopped thinking about it. It keeps following me around. I think it's because I can relate so well. The biggest thing the apostles expected Jesus to do was to redeem Israel. The biggest thing I expected God to do was to supply us with a job by now. The apostles were three days past the crucifixion and feeling every minute of it, waiting for something to happen. I am three years into the journey and feeling every bit of it. You know, Jesus did so much more than redeem Israel. His plan was so much bigger and better than what the apostles had hoped for. He redeemed all of mankind. He conquered death. What I have been waiting for may very well be much smaller than what God has planned. Perhaps I am still waiting because I have underestimated Him. I still can't get past the fact that they recognized Jesus only after He broke bread and gave it to them. They had just spent all that time walking and talking with Him, trying to wrap their minds around the events that had just taken place...no doubt in search of some answers. It makes me wonder how many times  I strive for answers or strive to know His will, when all I need to do is recognize Him in the ordinary and keep on walking on the very road that He has been walking with me all along. I asked God for clear direction that day when I was painting. I received clear direction. We are to keep on walking on the road He has us on. Maybe the reason why the story of the road to Emmaus keeps following me around is because I need to remember it.

     I need to remember that I will miss the will of God for my life when I strive for it. That doesn't mean that I should give up asking God to show me His will. It simply means that while I wait for Him to reveal it to me, I continue to faithfully walk the road He currently has me on. If I am faithful to walk with Him on the road He already has me on, I will likely find that I will walk right into His will. This walking or journeying with Him comes back to that word that I have been holding tight to for some time now. The word abide. When I abide I am at rest in Him. There is no striving, no wondering where He is, and  no feeling every minute of the three year journey. When I abide, I have already recognized Him because I am sitting across the table with Him in the ordinary...breaking bread.

     How about you? Are you on a long journey too? Do you strive to know what direction to go in or what God's will is for your life? Stop striving and abide. Keep putting one foot in front of the other walking with Jesus on the road He has you on. Take comfort in knowing that He is with you and you don't journey alone. If you continue to journey with Him, He will walk you right into His will. We long for Him to show up big, to take care of those things that seems so big to us...but He is already at work doing what is truly needed. He has already shown up in the most important place of all...the ordinary. It's in the ordinary that we learn how to rest in Him.